It was about five games into last season when we all realized that the Redskins offensive line couldn't block anyone, couldn't pick-up any blitzes, and even three man rushes were getting home around the time the running back was leaking out of the backfield.
Green Bay's Clay Matthews may lead the NFL in sacks, and he may have hurt himself in the fourth quarter not to return, and that may have been seen as a blessing in disguise. It likely had no impact on the outcome of this game. Green Bay's constant "three man pressure packages" continued to baffle the Redskins offensive line right into overtime. In simple terms, the Redskins won this game because they forced a turnover on the Packers in their own territory. The offense couldn't sustain anything.
The touchdown drive was two plays long. The Redskins had two different trips inside the Green Bay 40 yard line that yielded zero points. The game tying field goal drive lasted just 6 plays with no 3rd down conversions. The field goal drive at the end of the first half was more or less just a third down conversion.
Even the best plays of the day occured when McNabb was getting hit into his throws. A couple times, Green Bay made the mistake of allowing McNabb to break contain, and this is when big plays occured. Both 40+ yard completions in this game happened because the right side contain defender came down inside and engaged the running back, with McNabb able to threaten the line of scrimmage with no one contesting the throw. None of the Redskins offensive tackles could secure the edge against the outside rushers of the Packers, and the interior lineman were beaten too many times to count.
To be sure, the Packers are a strong pass rushing team even independent of Clay Matthews. McNabb was sacked *only* 5 times. It seems like a lot more. Remember, the Packers sacked McNabb 8 times in the 4th and 26 game that was eventually won by the Eagles.
Ugh. This was ugly. Kory Lichtensteiger paced everyone with 5 blown blocks. That's a bad season from a left guard, but it wasn't such a terrible game by the standards of this offensive line in this game. Casey Rabach had 2 blown blocks, plus another two plays where the Packers assulted McNabb with Rabach playing the role of the fiery coach of the offense who yells encouragement at his troops without actually doing anything to help them. Trent Williams had 2 blown blocks in his return to the lineup, and he wasn't the one going against Matthews most of the time. Artis Hicks had the worst game of his Redskins career, 3 blown blocks. Keiland Williams and Ryan Torain blew a block each. Torain at least made up for it with the key block on the Armstrong TD and an awesome-though-meaningless decleater of 340 lb BJ Raji. Stephon Heyer had a blown block and didn't even start. He replaced the injured Jammal Brown, who blew 3 blocks in the first half plus a drive (two of which vs. Matthews).
If you add up the carnage, the Redskins blew 18 blocks in this game between the runs and the passes. About 4 to 5 blown blocks is normal for a game against a quality opponent. The Packers played well, but that was only part of the issue. The main issue was that the Redskins offensive pace-setters never even bothered to show up.
Effect of Blown Blocks on McNabb
Some observers largely disagree with the premise that cumulative pressure can wear against a quarterbacks' mental well being, and turn him into an emotionless player who doesn't see the whole field and percieves pressure around him at all times. That was never a characteristic of Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia. It took five games in Washington to turn him into someone who is always worried about taking that next hit.
Too many of McNabb's wildly inaccurate throws in this game were not a function of poor fundamentals, but rather, turning away from the pressure as he was surrounded by white jerseys. There are two sides to every coin of course: McNabb never lost his aggressiveness for any reason. He made stick throws into impossibly small windows multiple times in the fourth quarter. On a fourth and two playcall with the Redskins down by ten, he threw the ball deep into the end zone to a double-covered Anthony Armstrong (he screwed up badly in leaving the pocket in the first place, however. Solution: run the ball.). There was no comfortable pocket at any point in this game, and McNabb beat the blitz to an open receiver in the middle of the field any number of times.
Traditionally however, McNabb has always proven strong under pressure. This game was clearly an exception, but not inconsistent with the second half of the Philadelphia game. McNabb is now perceiving pressure from the backside and up the middle, and is leaving the pocket trying to extend plays instead of getting deep into his progressions. Can we really blame him? We blew 18 blocks as a team, 16 of them in the dropback passing game. We don't trust our running game in critical times (1 RB carry in 3 OT possessions this year, 2 combined rushing yards same timeframe), and we're too predictable on second and third downs (we mix very well on first downs), and all of this is causing McNabb to be the focal point and sole distributor of an offense that can't protect him.
If this sounds familiar, it's because now with Portis out, we have last year's offense, but with an additional big play receiver and a quarterback who is a threat to get the ball downfield in any down and distance.
Things are Still Going Right Though? We're 3-2 with a Mediocre Defense
Well, yeah. I always thought we overpaid for a non-elite player who had contractual ability to walk after a season. It's not like we've paid for nothing. Only two quarterbacks have turned the ball over less frequently than Donovan McNabb this year: Mark Sanchez, and Michael Vick.
The difference in offensive efficiency between the Eagles/Jets and the Redskins has nothing to do with the passing game. I'd put our passing game -- crappy line and all -- up against theirs any day. The differences are in the rushing game, where LeSean McCoy and LaDainian Tomlinson have rushed the ball a combined 144 times for 800 rushing yards (5.6 YPC average), with 8 rushing TDs. Ryan Torain and Clinton Portis have combined for 60 rushes, 351 yards (3.9 YPC average), and 3 rushing TDs. That's about league average, whereas the Jets and Eagles run the ball better than anyone.
Still we should be leaning on our league average running game more than we actually are, particularly in third down and less than five, when the Redskins have thrown close to 100% of the time this year (optimal balance is roughly 3/4 running in that situation). That's the biggest repeatable reason for our 3rd down failures this year. We're not a bad rushing team, but because we aren't great at it, we hardly ever run. That, and we haven't found a change-of-pace back who we will give the ball to other than Torain. Keiland Williams is going to be the third down back while Portis is out, but the Redskins don't want to give him a chance to carry the ball.
Still, when you can throw as frequently as the Redskins do and still never turn the ball over, there's not a whole lot of reason to run more frequently (with the exception of the situational factor above).
I thought Kyle Shanahan called a good game here. I'm not sure how many opponents have picked up on his tendency to alternate run/pass on first and second downs in normal game situations, and I know teams have picked up on his tendency to throw in short yardage, but for the most part, he was able to attack a strong Green Bay secondary without the element of surprise or pass protection for his quarterback. He didn't get away from the stuff that was working and stuck with the game plan: we were running the slant-flat combo deep into the game, although McNabb didn't really stick with the play when we did run it. That's not the playcaller's fault.
I don't think he called a good overtime period. It's very difficult to pass ones way all the way down the field without at least one ten yard run to help alter field position. But Shanahan didn't even really run after the Landry interception: the ball was moved by defensive penalties on critical downs. The Packers sniffed out a third and one throw because, well, if you thought the Redskins wouldn't run for a yard in that situation, you were right.
I did like the quarterback sneak calls to ice the win at the end of the OT period, however.
Donovan McNabb shows a strong tendency to stick with plays that go to Chris Cooley, Santana Moss, or Anthony Armstrong, while avoiding sticking with other receivers. However, in the fourth quarter with Armstrong hurt on the sideline, McNabb needed to be able to trust Joey Galloway on timing patterns to finish off the comeback, and while McNabb badly underthrew a couple of outs, he made some completions to Galloway that were among his best throws of the day.
Fred Davis was not targeted by the Redskins in this game, which is fairly inexcusable.
Santana Moss isn't primarily being used as a deep threat in this offense. Even though we're base two wide receivers, Moss is the slot reciever, the engine of the passing offense. Chris Cooley is often used as a desperation target in our base sets, which is why his offensive efficiency numbers are down. Fred Davis is a package player. Anthony Armstrong has emerged as the team's primary deep threat, taking over Galloway's role. Galloway is carving out a new niche as a reciever who works the sideline. We'll see if that bears fruit.
The passing offense is progressing and getting deeper, even as the offensive line is regressing to last year's levels. If there are better days in the future for the Redskin offense, this needs to be a clear outlier performance. The pass protection unit's number one task for next week is to win Donovan McNabb's confidence back.